EU and Italy remain at odds over airport charges dispute

Italy has two authorities to manage charges at its airports, including Rome Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci hub. [Sorbis/ Shutterstock]

The European Commission remains unsatisfied with Italy’s responses to questions about the independence of the country’s civil aviation authority (ENAC) and charges levied at the country’s largest airports. EURACTIV’s partner Milano Finanza reports.

Brussels is not abandoning Italy’s major airports. According to Milano Finanza, talks between the Commission and Italy about ENAC’s supervisory role in setting charges at the country’s three big airports (Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa and Venice’s Marco Polo) have not been fruitful.

The EU executive opened an infringement procedure against Rome at the end of 2015 and after an unsatisfactory exchange of letters with the Italian government, is now ready to go on the attack again.

Serious concerns remain about ENAC’s independence, which the Commission insists is a prerequisite for authorities that regulate dynamic airport charges.

Commission gives free hand to capitals to subsidise small airports

The European Commission announced today (17 May) a review of state aid rules that will allow member states to pour millions of euros of support into struggling regional airports without prior approval from Brussels.

The EU’s 2009 directive sought to make these charges non-discriminatory and Italy, in 2012, set up the Transport Regulation Authority to handle their regulation. But the three main airports remained under the jurisdiction of ENAC, as their annual traffic is over 8 million passengers.

This binary system, with ENAC handling the bigger airports and the other authority managing the smaller ones, attracted the scrutiny of the Commission. If Rome cannot convince the executive that its system is above board then Italy risks being referred to the European Court of Justice.

The infringement procedure has been open for some time but progress has been slow.

Last August, Italy’s infrastructure ministry clarified the role of ENAC regarding the bigger airports. “ENAC fulfils the role of supervisory authority, as per Directive 2009/12/CE of 11 March 2009, for the multiannual and programmatic level of charges applicable to airports under a derogation programme, following state verification of investment progress,” the ministry explained.

Italy, in its first response to the Commission’s investigation, highlighted that approval of charges for airports under derogation is a competence of the economic development studies directorate, a subdivision within ENAC itself.

Rome has also argued that ENAC is no less independent than similar bodies in France or Germany.

According to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an airport charge is a levy that is intended to recover the cost of providing facilities and services for civil aviation.

EU to launch legal case against Italy over Fiat emissions

The European Union will launch legal action against Italy on Wednesday (17 May) for failing to police allegations of emissions-test cheating by Fiat Chrysler properly following the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, EU sources said.